My, outbound to Belgium

Wait, what? It's three months already?! As I always say, we have time. But in reality, we don't. But then again, what is time? It is a concept? It is an abstract? It is something we just adapt to and accept it as it is? Just like time, being an exchange student is the exact same thing: we adapt and accept. We adapt to being an exchange student. Everything we do: the way to wake up in the morning, the way we eat, the way we interact, the way to walk, and even the way we go to bed at night. Then after understanding the concept of assimilation, we accept it. It's everything we get to learn and do within the short amount of time we have as exchange student, which ranges from 10 to 12 months (depending on how lucky you are and where you come from).

WARNING: please do not cry (whether tears of joy or pure sadness). But it's just a disclaimer; you can do as you please. It is your free will. You may or may not cry.

This is the life of an exchange student: waking up every morning to someone else’s bed, home, and family; eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a foreign country where a completely different language is spoken; immersing in another country; immersing in another language while not comprehending anything; going to school and potentially getting bullied (both indirectly and directly) daily (not just only by peers, teachers, and/or host parents) for not understanding, answering fast enough, or thinking in the language; having to learn the materials in school and outside of school; is expected to interact with everyone; always selfless and always sacrificing something, whether sleep or time, to learn the new language as fast as possible; having to step outside of one’s comfort zone and adapt; and this process is repeated over and over again for the next 10 to 12 months. But do you know what? We put up with everything because we WANT to learn, we WANT to adapt, we WANT to fit in, we WANT to form families and connections with others, and most importantly, we WANT to experience the life of an exchange student. AND to do all of this, we displayed an exceptional amount of COURAGE to accomplish what we WANT in life.

Exchange is one of the most rewarding years of one’s life but also one of the most stressful, strenuous, and life-changing year of the student’s life. This is the one-year where a student can experience everything: memories; food; courage; love; bundles of joy; acceptance; the feeling of being rejected; tears of frustrations; homesickness; isolation from others because we are different; pain; difficulty with learning the language; fear; frustrations due to others not understanding and from oneself for not understanding and accepting what is all happening; feeling drained everyday; the concept of waiting; the concept of not getting everything we want in life; not having people (family, friends, and acquaintances) understand your situation and what you are going through both from your home country and your host country; having asked “WHY?”; independence; dependence; sadness; disappointment; laughter; sleep deprivation; tiredness, monotony in having to re peat another year of high school; immaturity; maturity; personal pep talks of “YES I CAN”; feeling alone but is surrounded by people; knowing when to say and do the right thing at the right time; physical, mental, and spiritual deprivation; making a family with other students; success of being able to communicate; being able to share all of this to others; and most importantly self-realization and CHANGE. This is the one-year where courage is given to a student to do about anything that he or she could not do before and it is achieved with the most rewarding smile at the end of the year. Exchange is not a year of a person’s life; it is life within a year. A year for students to experience everything; to exchange our ideas, our hopes, our dreams; and to share the memories and lessons we have learned with the world, the people back home, the people we meet on our journeys.

En seulement trois mois ici en Belgique, je peux parler, écrire, lire, et penser en le français. J’ai fait beaucoup de connections, amis, et souvenirs. Je peux comprendre et communiquer avec ma famille d’accueil, les belges, et les autres étudiants d’échange. L’idée qu’une étudiante avant d’arriver dans un autre pays peut apprendre une autre langue, une autre culture et réussir est incroyablement ahurissant.

In only three months in Belgium, I am able to speak, write, read, and think in French. I have made so many connections, friends, and memories. I can understand and communicate with my host family, Belgians, and other exchange students. The idea of a student before arriving in another country can learn another language, another country, and to succeed is incredibly astonishing.

But do you really know what I want to say: I'm thankful everyday for what Rotary has given to students like myself. Sometimes, when I go through a day where all I do is reflect on my decision, the choices I have made, the things I have done, and potentially the things I will do; I think of how blessed I am to be here today. When I am having a rough time, I think about how fortunate I am while other are not as fortunate. Therefore, I count my blessings and vow to make a world a better place for others.

FUTURE OUTBOUNDS (some of you know who you are): LEARN YOUR TARGET LANGUAGE. You don't understand how proud you can be of yourself when others compliment you on how well you know your target language. As you all know, I'm coming along quite well with my target language: French. To the point where I'm starting to speak like a Belgian, display lots of grammatical errors in English, forgetting how to spell in English (thank GOD for spell-check on computers), and dreaming in French. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO MAKE MISTAKES! That is the process of learning.

"Hard work is not just physical but also mental and spiritual. All three have to work together for the end product: success and personal pride." – My –